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An Eclectic Digest of Science, Art and Literature



Modified: 2016-09-28T17:32:03Z

 



How Vector Space Mathematics Reveals the Hidden Sexism in Language

2016-09-28T17:32:24Z

As neural networks tease apart the structure of language, they are finding a hidden gender bias that nobody knew was there. From the MIT Technology Review: Back in 2013, a handful of researchers at Google set loose a neural network...As neural networks tease apart the structure of language, they are finding a hidden gender bias that nobody knew was there. From the MIT Technology Review: Back in 2013, a handful of researchers at Google set loose a neural network on a corpus of three million words taken from Google News texts. The neural net’s goal was to look for patterns in the way words appear next to each other. What it found was complex but the Google team discovered it could represent these patterns using vectors in a vector space with some 300 dimensions. It turned out that words with similar meanings occupied similar parts of this vector space. And the relationships between words could be captured by simple vector algebra. For example, “man is to king as woman is to queen” or, using the common notation, “man : king :: woman : queen.” Other relationships quickly emerged too such as  “sister : woman :: brother : man,” and so on. These relationships are known as word embeddings. This data set is called Word2vec and is hugely powerful. Numerous researchers have begun to use it to better understand everything from machine translation to intelligent Web searching. But today Tolga Bolukbasi at Boston University and a few pals from Microsoft Research say there is a problem with this database: it is blatantly sexist. More here.  [Thanks to Farrukh Azfar.] [...]



Fish Can Be Smarter Than Primates

2016-09-28T17:22:37Z

Jonathan Balcombe in Nautilus: Intelligence is shaped by the survival requirements that an animal must face during its everyday life, according to cognitive ecology. Some birds can remember where they buried tens of thousands of nuts and seeds, which allows...Jonathan Balcombe in Nautilus: Intelligence is shaped by the survival requirements that an animal must face during its everyday life, according to cognitive ecology. Some birds can remember where they buried tens of thousands of nuts and seeds, which allows them to find them during the long winter months; a burrowing rodent can learn a complex underground maze with hundreds of tunnels in just two days; and a crocodile can have the presence of mind to carry sticks on her head and float them just below an area where herons are nesting, then pounce when an unwary bird swoops down to collect nesting material. What about the mental abilities of fishes? Notwithstanding the liberties taken by filmmakers in popular movies like The Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo, and its sequel, Finding Dory, can fishes really think? Here’s an example of fish intelligence, courtesy of the frillfin goby, a small fish of intertidal zones of both eastern and western Atlantic shores. When the tide goes out, frillfins like to stay near shore, nestled in warm, isolated tide pools where they may find lots of tasty tidbits. But tide pools are not always safe havens from danger. Predators such as octopuses or herons may come foraging, and it pays to make a hasty exit. But where is a little fish to go? Frillfin gobies deploy an improbable maneuver: They leap to a neighboring pool. How do they do it without ending up on the rocks, doomed to die in the sun? With prominent eyes, slightly puffy cheeks looking down on a pouting mouth, a rounded tail, and tan-gray-brown blotchy markings along a 3-inch, torpedo-shaped body, the frillfin goby hardly looks like a candidate for the Animal Einstein Olympics. But its brain is an overachiever by any standard. For the little frillfin memorizes the topography of the intertidal zone—fixing in its mind the layout of depressions that will form future pools in the rocks at low tide—while swimming over them at high tide. More here. [...]



Arturo Escobar: a post-development thinker to be reckoned with

2016-09-28T17:14:18Z

Drawing on influences from Foucault to Said, the Colombian's arguments have a sophistication that often goes unrecognised. Simon Reid-Henry in The Guardian: One response to the development impasse caused by modernisation and dependency theories was "can do" neoliberalism; another involved...Drawing on influences from Foucault to Said, the Colombian's arguments have a sophistication that often goes unrecognised. Simon Reid-Henry in The Guardian: One response to the development impasse caused by modernisation and dependency theories was "can do" neoliberalism; another involved reflection on the very purpose of development. This took shape across "alternative" approaches including environment, gender and sustainability. All these approaches grew up alongside the neoliberal right, but most were drowned out, for a time at least, by its noisiness. Perhaps the most distinctive new approach, however – one set on meeting the new right's noisiness with a strategic and all-encompassing silence – was the post-development thinking embodied by the work of Colombian scholar Arturo Escobar. Escobar's ideas are best summed up in his 1995 book Encountering Development, which offered much more than an analysis of mainstream development economics or the sprawling array of development actors and institutions it spawned. It was a critique of the whole rotten edifice of western ideas that supported development, which Escobar regarded as a contradiction in terms and a sham. For Escobar, development amounted to little more than the west's convenient "discovery" of poverty in the third world for the purposes of reasserting its moral and cultural superiority in supposedly post-colonial times. More here. [...]



The Enemy Within - Darcy James Argue's Secret Society

2016-09-28T17:03:39Z

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on the 'higher' friendship between men and women

2016-09-28T13:43:06Z

George Scialabba at The Baffler: When Mill was twenty-four and already a rising intellectual star, he met Mrs. Taylor, twenty-three, the wife of a Unitarian businessman and mother of two children. John had recently come through the depression he famously...George Scialabba at The Baffler: When Mill was twenty-four and already a rising intellectual star, he met Mrs. Taylor, twenty-three, the wife of a Unitarian businessman and mother of two children. John had recently come through the depression he famously described in his Autobiography, caused, he was convinced, by having starved his feelings. Harriet was brilliant, beautiful, and fearless. Both were smitten, instantly and forever. Except when one or the other was convalescing (they were both tubercular), they rarely went a day without seeing or writing each other until she died twenty-eight years later, in 1858. (For the first nineteen of those years, they met openly at her house, thanks to her remarkably enlightened husband, John Taylor, of whom there is a small commemorative medallion on display in the Harriet Taylor Room.) Mill insisted that everything he wrote after meeting Taylor was a joint production—she had the flashes of inspiration that he laboriously worked out. Some subsequent critics have doubted that this was true of his Logic and other philosophical writings. But it was surely true of The Subjection of Women, his powerful and influential critique of sexual inequality. Mill was already an advanced feminist when they met (which was, he later wrote, the only reason she gave him the time of day). But she enlarged his vision and kindled his indignation. The latter is perhaps the most striking feature of Mill’s treatise. Wollstonecraft’s Vindication had a conciliatory, occasionally even pleading, tone. But The Subjection of Women gave no quarter, rhetorically. The relentlessness of the prose in the cause of emancipation fits right into today’s sex-war rhetoric. more here. [...]



The decline of liberal democracy in Europe's midst

2016-09-28T13:32:30Z

Gábor Halmai at Eurozine: Hungary's illiberal turn, which has significantly weakened the rule of law safeguards instituted by the 1989-1990 constitutional process, can be described as a 'constitutional counter-revolution'.[1] At the same time, it has not resulted in the restoration...Gábor Halmai at Eurozine: Hungary's illiberal turn, which has significantly weakened the rule of law safeguards instituted by the 1989-1990 constitutional process, can be described as a 'constitutional counter-revolution'.[1] At the same time, it has not resulted in the restoration of either a single-party or police state structures. Rather, the Hungarian system since 2010 is better characterized as a 'democradura'.[2] In the following, I describe the elements and possible reasons for Hungary's political transformation.[3] The failure of the elite (myself included) that built liberal democracy in Hungary is one of the issues discussed. Another is why the first twenty years of regime transition did not see the emergence of greater respect for constitutional values. This would have prevented the rapid deconstruction of democracy or, at the very least, have made the collapse more difficult.Especially after the refugee crisis, the Hungarian situation is also a test as to whether, and to what extent, the civilized world, especially Europe, can enforce global values in countries that are members of the international community, and of value-based communities such as the European Union and the Council of Europe. So far, the results by no means qualify as a success. The Hungarian government's minor concessions have been due not to the resolve of European institutions, nor to the power its value-enforcement mechanisms, but to the exigencies of Hungary's economic situation. more here. [...]



Two essay collections examine race relations in America

2016-09-28T13:29:33Z

Jabari Asim at Bookforum: All of which brings me back to Richard Wright’s suggestion, in Native Son (1940), that literature is a battleground on which blacks and whites have often fought over the very “nature of reality.” All too often,...Jabari Asim at Bookforum: All of which brings me back to Richard Wright’s suggestion, in Native Son (1940), that literature is a battleground on which blacks and whites have often fought over the very “nature of reality.” All too often, differing approaches to language reflect sharply contrasting visions of American society. For African Americans, the disparate language of our country’s racial majority has seldom been separate from customs and policies that hinder complete access to the “grand experiment” we continue to hear so much about. Into this schism steps Jesmyn Ward, whose novel Salvage the Bones won the 2011 National Book Award. In her introduction to the new anthology The Fire This Time, she finds evidence of this clash of visions in George Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin. She looks at images of the latter’s baby face and sees a child. But she recognizes that “most Americans” look at the same person and see someone quite different: “some kind of ravenous hoodlum, perpetually at the mercy of his animalistic instincts.” Around a year after Martin’s death, Ward began the project that became The Fire This Time. She writes that she wanted to provide writers of her generation with an opportunity “to dissent, to call to account, to witness, to reckon.” Anthologies of this sort are plentiful and powerful, at least to African American readers, those most likely to engage and embrace such efforts, which include The New Negro (1925), Black Fire (1968), and Step into a World(2000). That there have been so many of these books, decade after decade, speaks to their limited utility beyond the sympathetic circles where black artists and thinkers congregate—there always have been new atrocities to respond to, clueless assessments to refute, hostilities to defend against. more here. [...]



Wednesday Poem

2016-09-28T12:39:03Z

Where do we Go From Here Through the cold glass of a winter window where crazed weather holds my breath to task, a tangled canopy of tree and sky becomes that ornately carved pediment: Banteay Shrei in late afternoon just...

Where do we Go From Here

Through the cold glass of a winter window 
where crazed weather holds my breath 
to task,
a tangled canopy of tree and sky
becomes that ornately carved pediment:
Banteay Shrei in late afternoon
just south of where great rivers 
are diverted by Chinese dams—
visions of yuan, mouths screaming for profit, 
a world where Mao means anything.

A modern woman stands alone
in the stillness of a place 
where life may not have been 
that different. She tries
to untangle the skeins of power
from tradition’s weave.
Nothing moves. All things speak.
Impossible to know for sure
but these stones tell her: 
pay attention.
.

by Margaret Randall
from Where do we Go from Here
Wings Press, San Antonio, TX
.

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Babies Have a Microbial Window of Opportunity

2016-09-28T11:50:15Z

Finlay et al in Scientific American: Until very recently, whenever we thought of microbes — especially around babies — we considered them only as potential threats and were concerned with getting rid of them, and it is no surprise why....Finlay et al in Scientific American: Until very recently, whenever we thought of microbes — especially around babies — we considered them only as potential threats and were concerned with getting rid of them, and it is no surprise why. In the past century, most human communities have experienced the benefits of medical advances that have reduced the number and the degree of infections we suffer throughout life. These advances include antibiotics, antivirals, vaccinations, chlorinated water, pasteurization, sterilization, pathogen–free food, and even good old-fashioned hand washing. The quest of the past 100 years has been to get rid of microbes — “the only good microbe is a dead one.” This strategy has served us remarkably well; nowadays, dying from a microbial infection is a very rare event in developed countries, whereas only 100 years ago 75 million people died worldwide over a span of two years infected with H1N1 influenza virus, also known as the Spanish flu. At first glance, our war on microbes along with other medical advances has truly paid off. The average life span in the US in 1915 was 52 years, approximately 30 years shorter than it is today. For better or for worse, there are almost four times more humans on this planet than only 100 years ago, an incredibly accelerated growth in our historic timeline. Evolutionarily speaking, we have hit the jackpot. But at what price? More here. [...]



High Hitler: how Nazi drug abuse steered the course of history

2016-09-27T16:35:05Z

Rachel Cooke in The Guardian: The German writer Norman Ohler lives on the top floor of a 19th-century apartment building on the south bank of the river Spree in Kreuzberg, Berlin. Visiting him there is a vertiginous experience. For one...Rachel Cooke in The Guardian: The German writer Norman Ohler lives on the top floor of a 19th-century apartment building on the south bank of the river Spree in Kreuzberg, Berlin. Visiting him there is a vertiginous experience. For one thing, he works – and likes to entertain visitors – in what he calls his “writing tower”, a flimsy-seeming, glass-walled turret perched right on the very edge of the roof. (Look down, if you dare, and you will see his little boat moored far below.) For another, there is the fact that from this vantage point it is possible to discern two Berlins, one thrusting and breezy, the other spectral and grey. To our left, busy with traffic, is the Oberbaum Bridge, where there was once a cold war checkpoint, and beyond it the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall, its doleful length rudely interrupted by the block of luxury flats that went up in 2013. As for the large building immediately opposite, these days it’s the home of Universal Music. Not so very long ago, however, it was the GDR’s egg storage facility. Does all this press on Ohler as he sits at his desk, the light bouncing off the screen of his laptop? Is it ghostly sometimes? “Yes, it is strange,” he says, smiling at my giddiness. But then he has long believed in a certain kind of time travel. “I remember the 90s. The wall had just come down, and I was experimenting with party drugs like ecstasy and LSD. The techno scene had started up, and there were all these empty buildings in the east where the youth [from east and west] would meet for the first time. They were hardcore, some of those guys from the east – they didn’t understand foreigners at all – and the ecstasy helped them to lose some of their hatred and suspicion. Sometimes, then, you could step into a room, and you could just see the past. Of course, it’s not like that now. I don’t take drugs any more. But I can remember it, and maybe that was why I was able to write this book.” The book in question is The Total Rush – or, to use its superior English title, Blitzed – which reveals the astonishing and hitherto largely untold story of the Third Reich’s relationship with drugs, including cocaine, heroin, morphine and, above all, methamphetamines (aka crystal meth), and of their effect not only on Hitler’s final days – the Führer, by Ohler’s account, was an absolute junkie with ruined veins by the time he retreated to the last of his bunkers – but on the Wehrmacht’s successful invasion of France in 1940. More here. [...]



A non-probabilistic quantum theory produces unpredictable results

2016-09-27T16:29:16Z

Lisa Zyga in Phys.org: Quantum measurements are often inherently unpredictable, yet the usual way in which quantum theory accounts for unpredictability has long been viewed as somewhat unsatisfactory. In a new study, University of Oxford physicist Chiara Marletto has developed...Lisa Zyga in Phys.org: Quantum measurements are often inherently unpredictable, yet the usual way in which quantum theory accounts for unpredictability has long been viewed as somewhat unsatisfactory. In a new study, University of Oxford physicist Chiara Marletto has developed an alternative way to account for the unpredictability observed in quantum measurements by using the recently proposed theory of superinformation—a theory that is inherently non-probabilistic. The new perspective may lead to new possibilities in the search for a successor to quantum theory. The unpredictability observed in quantum experiments is one of the unique features of the quantum world that sets it apart from classical physics. One prominent example of quantum unpredictability is the double-slit experiment: When sending a stream of particles (such as photons or electrons) through two small slits in a plate, the individual particles are detected at different locations on a screen behind the plate. Although it's possible to predict the probability of a particle impacting at a certain location, it's not possible to predict specifically where any individual particle will end up. Traditionally, this apparent probabilistic behavior that is observed in experiments has been accounted for in quantum theory by using the Born rule. In 1926, the German physicist Max Born developed this rule to determine the probability of finding a quantum object at a certain location—or more generally, the probability that any measurement on a quantum system will produce a particular observed outcome, depending on the quantum state of the object. The Born rule is a unique part of quantum theory in that it is the only stochastic, or randomly determined, element in quantum theory. The Born rule has basically been added by fiat on top of a theory that is otherwise deterministic. More here.  [Thanks to Farrukh Azfar.] [...]



The earliest known Arabic short stories in the world have just been translated into English for the first time

2016-09-27T14:51:19Z

Robert Irwin in The Independent: The Ottoman sultan Selim the Grim – having defeated the Mamluks in two major battles in Syria and Egypt – entered Cairo in 1517. He celebrated his victory by watching the crucifixion of the last...Robert Irwin in The Independent: The Ottoman sultan Selim the Grim – having defeated the Mamluks in two major battles in Syria and Egypt – entered Cairo in 1517. He celebrated his victory by watching the crucifixion of the last Mamluk sultan at the Zuwayla Gate. Then he presided over the systematic looting of Cairo’s cultural treasures. Among that loot was the content of most of Cairo’s great libraries. Arabic manuscripts were shipped to Istanbul and distributed among the city’s mosques. This is probably how the manuscript of Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange ended up in the library of the great mosque of Ayasofya.  There it lay unread and gathering dust, a ragged manuscript that no one even knew existed, until 1933 when Hellmut Ritter, a German orientalist, stumbled across it and translated it into his mother tongue. An Arabic edition was belatedly printed in 1956. In the 1990s, when I was working on my book The Arabian Nights: A Companion, I came across references to this story collection and, since it sounded very like The Arabian Nights (or, to give it its correct title, The Thousand and One Nights), I thought I ought to have a look at it. The stories in Tales of the Marvellous were indeed as fantastic and exotic as those in the Nights, and I felt as other scholars might feel if they had come across a missing part of The Canterbury Tales or a lost play by Shakespeare. The stories are very old, more than 1,000 years old, yet most of them are quite new to us. Some years later, I suggested to Malcolm Lyons, the translator of a recent edition of the Nights, that having completed that mighty task, he might consider translating Tales of the Marvellous. More here. [...]



After the End of Truth: Beyond Post-Modernism

2016-09-27T14:36:48Z

Hannah Dawson, Hilary Lawson, John Searle, and Rana Mitter discuss: Watch more videos on iai.tv

Hannah Dawson, Hilary Lawson, John Searle, and Rana Mitter discuss:

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A museum’s misguided attempt to rescue the past

2016-09-27T14:17:45Z

Rachel Poser at Harper's Magazine: The Breuer building, a mean pile of granite and concrete that squats darkly on a corner of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, was built as a kind of monument to the Metropolitan Museum’s long-standing distaste for... Rachel Poser at Harper's Magazine: The Breuer building, a mean pile of granite and concrete that squats darkly on a corner of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, was built as a kind of monument to the Metropolitan Museum’s long-standing distaste for contemporary art. In 1929, the Met refused Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s gift of more than five hundred contemporary American works by the likes of Edward Hopper, George Bellows, and John Sloan. The Met’s refusal precipitated the founding of the Whitney Museum, which outgrew its row houses on West 8th Street and some time later commissioned Marcel Breuer, a Hungarian architect who had been part of the Bauhaus, to design what is commonly described as an inverted Babylonian ziggurat as its new home. Built in a neighborhood otherwise known for its Beaux-Arts and Renaissance Revival mansions, the Breuer opened in 1966 to near-universal derision. (Ada Louise Huxtable, though herself a fan, said at the time that the Breuer was “the most disliked building in New York.”) Housed just half a mile from the Met on 5th Avenue, the Whitney served for a generation as a kind of poor relation to America’s largest and most visited museum, which for most of its history has preferred European traditionalism to the gut punches of the avant-garde. Early in their careers, Jackson Pollock and Louise Bourgeois joined sixteen other American artists, who would become known as the Irascibles, to write an open letter, calling the Met “notoriously hostile to advanced art.” The museum’s stance was unchanged as late as 1999, when its director sided with Mayor Rudy Giuliani, an irascible of another sort, in his condemnation of a contemporary show at the Brooklyn Museum that featured supercharged works such as Mark Quinn’s Self, a frozen cast of the artist’s head made from ten pints of his own blood. more here. [...]



poetry and politics

2016-09-27T14:12:07Z

Frank Guan at The Point: If poetry has a distinct class character, it also has a pronounced racial bent. Just as the American middle class is disproportionately white compared to the general population, an overwhelming majority of American poets are...Frank Guan at The Point: If poetry has a distinct class character, it also has a pronounced racial bent. Just as the American middle class is disproportionately white compared to the general population, an overwhelming majority of American poets are white. The parallel with high art and high fashion, those other tertiary fields, is instructive: in each field the criteria by which quality is assessed is so subjective, and the costs of entry for members of marginalized social groups so high—university certification, unpaid internships, the extra time required to master shibboleths and mores one’s white peers have been well versed in since childhood—that the demographics of the field, historically dominated by a white supermajority, remain as they are. Of all American literary genres, poetry has always been, by a wide margin, the most segregated. Though they appear together in anthologies, the fact is that white poets and black poets belong to two completely distinct traditions whose mutual relation, at best, has been nothing more than glancing. The canon of white American poetry, with its extremely strong inclination toward still life and landscape and its implicit upper-middle-class presumption that solitude, not company, is the primary and most immediate (though not necessarily most desired) state of being, is predicated on white social hegemony: for most of American history only whites had free access to the countryside and the stability and autonomy required to be at ease there. Contrarily, the canon of black American poetry, with its invariable ground notes of defiance and urgency and its acute social awareness, constitutes a Sisyphean effort to assert the collective humanity of black Americans. more here. [...]



farming in space

2016-09-27T14:08:50Z

Freeman Dyson at the NYRB: Farming is an art that achieved success after innumerable failures. So it was in the past and so it will be in the future. Any successful human settlement in space will begin as the Polynesian...Freeman Dyson at the NYRB: Farming is an art that achieved success after innumerable failures. So it was in the past and so it will be in the future. Any successful human settlement in space will begin as the Polynesian settlements in the Pacific islands began, with people bringing pigs and chickens and edible plants on their canoes, along with the skills to breed them. The authors of Beyond Earth imagine various possible futures for human settlement in various places, but none of their settlers resemble the Polynesians. Jon Willis’s All These Worlds Are Yours describes the possibilities for alien forms of life to exist in remote places and the practical steps we might take to discover them. The places that are discussed are the planet Mars, the moon Europa of Jupiter, the moons Titan and Enceladus of Saturn, and the newly discovered planets orbiting around other stars. Willis considers Enceladus to be the most promising place for us to look for evidence of life. Enceladus has active geysers spraying jets of salt water and steam into space from hot spots on its surface. The geysers must originate in an underground system of channels connected to a warm deep ocean in which life might be flourishing. To study possible traces of life in microscopic detail, we should send an unmanned spacecraft through the jets to collect samples of droplets and vapor and bring the samples back to Earth to be examined at leisure in a well-equipped laboratory. more here. [...]



Hillary Clinton Brings Out the Real Donald Trump

2016-09-27T11:27:24Z

John Cassidy in The New Yorker: Words matter when you run for President,” Hillary Clinton said toward the end of Monday night’s happening at Hofstra University, on Long Island. Clinton was criticizing Donald Trump for his loose language regarding America’s...John Cassidy in The New Yorker: Words matter when you run for President,” Hillary Clinton said toward the end of Monday night’s happening at Hofstra University, on Long Island. Clinton was criticizing Donald Trump for his loose language regarding America’s allies in Asia, but she could have been summing up the lopsided debate, which saw her doing virtually everything she needed to do while Trump indicted himself with his own words. As anybody familiar with Clinton’s career could have predicted, she was extremely well prepared for her first debate against Trump. After finding an opening to voice the key theme of her campaign early on—“We have to build an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top”—she spoke confidently and with precision more or less throughout. Although some of her attack lines sounded rehearsed—“Trumped-up trickle-down” was one that she repeated—they were still effective. She didn’t say anything that will come back to haunt her, and her only really awkward moments came when her opponent attacked her for reversing her position on the Trans Pacific Partnership. Trump, on the other hand, had evidently been telling the truth, for once, when, in the lead-up to Monday night, he said he didn’t believe in spending a lot of time on debate prep. His spontaneity and direct language played to his advantage in some of the debate’s early exchanges. But as the night wore on, and as the discussions got more detailed, his lack of respect for the format got him into all sorts of trouble. First, there were his errors of omission. Trump’s harsh stance on immigration and his depiction of Clinton and other professional politicians as puppets of corporate interests have both helped propel his campaign to this point. But on Monday, speaking before an enormous national audience, he barely mentioned the wall he wants to build across the U.S. border with Mexico, and he didn’t bring up Clinton’s ties to monied interests at all. Then there was the damage done by the things he did say. At one point, Lester Holt, the moderator, asked Trump about his refusal to release his tax returns, a subject that Trump must have known would come up. He replied by saying that he would release his returns “when she”—Clinton—“releases her thirty-three thousand e-mails that have been deleted.“ Perhaps Trump thought he was being smart with this this answer, but it only gave Clinton a chance to respond, which she did with relish. “So you’ve got to ask yourself: Why won’t he release his tax returns?” she said, seizing the moment. “Maybe he’s not as rich as he says he is … maybe he’s not as charitable as he claims to be.” Then Clinton raised another theory, one that I and others have written about: “Or maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes.” Here, you’d expect the target of the attack to sense the danger. Evidently, Trump didn’t. Having interrupted Clinton during most of her previous answers, he did so again. “That makes me smart,” he said. Even on Twitter, where people were pulling apart Trump’s words with the relish of a class of third graders dissecting a worm, it took a few seconds for this statement to sink in. Had he really just boasted that he didn’t pay any federal taxes? In[...]



When a Spouse Dies, Resilience Can Be Uneven

2016-09-27T11:16:08Z

Jane E. Brody in The New York Times: Losing a beloved life partner is never easy at any age, no matter the circumstance. The loss can be sudden and totally unexpected — a fatal heart attack, traffic accident or natural...Jane E. Brody in The New York Times: Losing a beloved life partner is never easy at any age, no matter the circumstance. The loss can be sudden and totally unexpected — a fatal heart attack, traffic accident or natural tragedy like a flood or earthquake. Or the loss can be long in coming from a progressive illness that gives the surviving spouse weeks, months, even years to prepare for and presumably ”adjust” to its eventual inevitability. Psychologists have long maintained that after a brief period of sometimes intense bereavement, the vast majority of surviving spouses adjust well, returning to their previous work, daily routines and prior state of contentment within a few months to a year – a psychological outcome referred to as resilience. Studies by George A. Bonanno and colleagues at Columbia University as well as others, for example, have found that 60 percent of people who lost a spouse were resilient — satisfied with their lives and not depressed. But new research is calling this global assessment inadequate to describe the aftermath of spousal loss for many if not most people, suggesting a need for more effective and specific ways to help them return to their prior state of well-being. Someone who ranks high in life satisfaction may nonetheless be having considerable difficulty in other domains that can diminish quality of life, like maintaining a satisfying social life, performing well at work or knowing who can help when needed. The Jewish faith in which I was raised offers one such source of support, specifying a period of mourning that gives survivors needed time to adjust to a new normal. It designates a weeklong visitation — the shiva — during which friends and relatives gather with the bereaved to express condolences and relate memories of the deceased. It also calls for a yearlong period of readjustment that includes daily prayers and no attempt to meet a new partner. More here. [...]



Tuesday Poem

2016-09-27T10:30:36Z

A Dream Deferred . What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore— And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over— like...A Dream Deferred. What happens to a dream deferred?        Does it dry up        like a raisin in the sun?        Or fester like a sore—        And then run?        Does it stink like rotten meat?        Or crust and sugar over—        like a syrupy sweet?        Maybe it just sags        like a heavy load.        Or does it explode?. by Langston Hughes from Selected Poems of Langston Hughes  Random House Inc., 1990. [...]



The Dangerous Discounting of Donald Trump

2016-09-26T08:37:47Z

by Ali Minai By this point in US Election 2016, everyone acknowledges that the Presidential candidacy of Donald Trump is one of the most transformative phenomena to arise in American society in a long time – possibly since the Civil...by Ali Minai By this point in US Election 2016, everyone acknowledges that the Presidential candidacy of Donald Trump is one of the most transformative phenomena to arise in American society in a long time – possibly since the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, of which it is, in some ways, a perverted mirror image. However, it's ludicrous and perverse aspects should not blind anyone – including its adherents – to its corrosive but real power. Those who had until recently discounted Trump are gradually beginning to realize this, and mockery is being replaced with a mixture of fear and perplexity. Foremost among the perplexed are the American elites and the chattering classes, who have tended to treat the candidacy of Donald Trump for President as a running farce. His frequently offensive and ignorant statements – usually via twitter – have become a staple of late-night comedy, and the cause for general derision in the news media. A surge in the polls after the Republican convention triggered a temporary bout of concern that he might actually win, but that concern receded as a very successful Democratic convention and Trump's disparaging of the Khan family boosted Hillary Clinton to a double digit national lead. A narrative settled in that Trump was finished, even as Clinton's lead has gradually declined, and now stands in the 2-4 percent range. While this has triggered a new round of anguish among Democrats, it has not yet completely changed the overall notion that, surely, the American people will not vote for someone as patently unqualified and irresponsible as Trump. The American people themselves have bolstered this assumption, with poll after poll showing that large majorities of voters consider Clinton more qualified and temperamentally suited to be President. A recent survey showed that nearly half of voters – including 22% of Trump supporters! – believe that he will use a nuclear weapon. Yet, what is often left unexplained is why the same polls typically show the head-to-head race between Trump and Clinton as very close. The implicit belief seems to be that voters will eventually come to their senses. In fact, this discrepancy should indicate exactly the opposite: That a certain chunk of voters have looked at both candidates, realized that Trump is unqualified to be President, but are nevertheless willing to vote for him. These voters have apparently considered and rejected rational arguments against Trump, suggesting that no further rational argument is likely to sway them. The same is true for the issues of bigotry and racism that are clearly relevant with regard to Trump. Most Clinton-supporters and the elite media have assumed that, once Trump's long history of bigotry against minorities and women became well-known, it would be impossible for him to win. The initial response to the Khan controversy reinforced this view. However, recent polling data suggests that this notion is not altogether justified either. As with competence, there is a segment of voters who know about Trump's bigotry, do not agree with it, but are still willing to overlook it. This segment is not necessarily identical with the one willing to overlook his incompetence, but there is probably considerable overlap. In any case, it appears that counting on the good sense of American vo[...]



OF GRAVITATIONAL WAVES AND QUANTUM COOPERATION

2016-09-26T08:26:24Z

by Tasneem Zehra Husain There's no doubt about it: conflict commands attention. Perhaps it made sense as an evolutionary strategy. Historically, the conflicts we would become aware of were those that occurred in our immediate vicinity, and as such, could...by Tasneem Zehra Husain   There's no doubt about it: conflict commands attention.    Perhaps it made sense as an evolutionary strategy. Historically, the conflicts we would become aware of were those that occurred in our immediate vicinity, and as such, could have life or death consequences. The penalty for ignoring such a scenario, in favor of something more pleasant, could be fatal. Those of us who attuned their ears to sounds of eminent disaster lived longer.    Focusing on potentially explosive situations might have served us well in days gone by (and of course it is still a necessary reflex in many scenarios) but continuing to do so, in our increasingly connected world where the news rains down on us incessantly, means that we are subjected to a barrage of negativity all day long.   The sensational headlines that follow us everywhere, the incessant chorus of strife and war and disaster that closes in on us, is not because the world is going to hell in a hand basket, but because the media giants who bombard us with soundbites around the clock know that conflict has the ability to arrest us in your tracks, to force us to pay attention. Life isn't any harder now than it was a century ago, in fact in many ways it is much easier; scholars have argued that the world is actually becoming a better, more just place; but since we hear mostly about what goes wrong, both in our backyards and at the other end of the globe, each of us is burdened with a planet's worth of woe. And as a result, we are growing increasingly weary.    Perhaps it is to counter this feeling of fatigue and ennui that a new wave of positivity has started rippling through the world. There is a slow, but growing, trend towards ‘feel-good' stories, reminders that in this apparently doomed world, there are surprising moments of grace. This is a movement I can completely get behind. Attention works such that it multiplies that which is focused on; stories of reconciliation, of people helping each other, of wounds being healed and problems solved - these act as a balm for our minds and our souls.    Funnily enough, what prompted these philosophical musings today was the thought that Nobel season is upon us. Just over a week from now, on the morning of Tuesday, October 5th, someone (or three someones) will be getting that fabled call from Sweden. Of course we can't ever say for sure, but there are years when the choice seems far more obvious than in others. I think it's fair to say that the international physics community would be quite shocked if the prize was not awarded for the detection of gravitational waves, and Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Ronald Drever did not end up wearing this year's laurels.  Shortly after they rippled through our little patch of spacetime, gravitational waves began rippling through the media. The signal they generated in our common consciousness is far far stronger than the signal registered by LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatory). Much has been written about this ground breaking achievement. The physics behind gravitational waves has been expertly expounded; we have heard about how they lay latent in the equations of general relativity for a century, and how many - including Einstein himse[...]



Vladimir Židovec Overshares

2016-09-26T08:20:23Z

by Holly A. Case Croatian State Archives, main reading room This story—a true one—is about a graphomaniac. I found him in the Croatian State Archives, Zagreb, where even the washrooms have signature tiles. Art nouveau beads drip from the lamps...by Holly A. Case Croatian State Archives, main reading room This story—a true one—is about a graphomaniac. I found him in the Croatian State Archives, Zagreb, where even the washrooms have signature tiles. Art nouveau beads drip from the lamps over the desks and carefully restored owls stare down from the tiled ceiling. The building, once wasted on university students cramming for exams, is now reserved exclusively for carriers of the twin fevers, bibliophilia and graphomania (that is, for historians), and is saturated with the smell of old paper and the dust of disintegration. There, in a collection marked F. 227 MVP NDH Zagreb, 1941-1945, I came upon the chubby, bespectacled Vladimir Židovec (b. 1907), one-time lawyer and "first-class chess player." His paper footprint filled folder upon folder, spilling over the edges of collections: foreign ministry, interior ministry, party archive, people's tribunal... I tracked him through the Second World War; shopped with him for his first tuxedo when the brand new German puppet known as the Independent State of Croatia sent him as its ambassador to Bulgaria; listened in as he and the Bulgarian prime minister talked politics over cabbage and pork cutlets; checked inventories of his state-furnished rooms in Sofia; bent over desks and tables as he wrote and wrote and wrote; and gawked at the Bulgarian social and political scene through his quirky "who's who" of Bulgaria. Dimo Ačkov: "Knows Turkish well. Was a personal friend of Kemal Pasha [Atatürk]." Dimitar Čorbev: "Very sly man. Some affairs have been mentioned in connection with his name. Good speaker." Georgi Genov: "Easily frightened. Hasn't left his house in the evening for a long time." Mihail Genovski: "Lately he has come under suspicion by the Germans. It is to be expected that steps will be taken against him." His documentary zeal vis-à-vis the lives of others left little room for details of his own person, so it was only in a folder of personnel files that I found certificates of recognition and praise from his superiors. My own assessment was similar, but for different reasons: One of his colleagues, the Croat ambassador to Slovakia, was barely literate by comparison, wrote few and uninformative reports, and got drunk and went to the beach, where he bawled out youngsters for going to the beach rather than joining the fight against the Soviets. Židovec, meanwhile, seemed to take in the whole region, the whole war, the whole world with his (secretary's) typewriter: three volumes of carefully typed and alphabetized notes on contacts and personalities meant for his successor, two books, and thousands of pages of reports on meetings, ceremonies, events, and even trips to the opera where who knows how the fate of the Independent State of Croatia hung in the balance. But from his reports, you felt it surely did.  Then in 1943—silence. The graphomaniac disappeared. His successor, Stijepo Perić, retraced his steps, talking to the statesmen and politicians around Sofia who had known him. They reported that Židovec was annoying, that he always carried a notebook and wrote things down as people talked, like they were suspects in a crime. "Tactless," they called him. "And cheap." (In[...]



Monday Photograph

2016-09-27T08:58:14Z

S. Abbas Raza. Downtown Manhattan at sunset from the roof of the New Museum. July, 2016 Digital photograph. [Click to enlarge.]

(image)

S. Abbas Raza. Downtown Manhattan at sunset from the roof of the New Museum. July, 2016

Digital photograph. [Click to enlarge.]

(image)



MOOTING AN ELEPHANT

2016-09-26T08:08:10Z

by Richard King When economist Branko Milanović first published his now-famous chart showing changes in global income distribution between 1988 and 2008 he furnished the world with a neat explanation for the various anti-establishment types now rocking the boat of...by Richard King When economist Branko Milanović first published his now-famous chart showing changes in global income distribution between 1988 and 2008 he furnished the world with a neat explanation for the various anti-establishment types now rocking the boat of Western politics: sandwiched between the Asian middle class and an increasingly bloated 1%—the winners from twenty years of "high" globalisation—the middle class of the rich world had been left behind and was voting in the rabblerousers. He also furnished it with a serviceable metaphor. From memory, it was Toby Nangle who first noticed that the chart resembled an elephant, and his inspired little graffito (below) twittered across the world in a flash. Journalists needed no further prompting. The chart was the elephant in the room … No: It was a sleeping elephant that threatened to wake up and destroy the joint … No: It was the eponymous pachyderm in the Indian parable of the blind men and the elephant—a beast the nature and significance of which depended on which bit of it you happened to be feeling … And so on and so on. Now the metaphor-making has entered a new phase. Responding to a report by the Resolution Foundation that seems to cast doubt on Milanović's data, or some of the interpretations of it, some commentators have declared the "elephant chart" irrelevant. Once called "the most important chart for understanding politics today"—the one gif you need in order to make sense of the current intersection of domestic politics and macroeconomic trends—it is now a liability, a statistical howler. Scribblers in the conservative sheets were especially keen to ventilate the report's findings and the presses ran hot with their picturesque efforts. The elephant had been shot, no, tamed …No: It had wandered off from the herd and gone in search of the elephant graveyard … It had packed its trunk and said goodbye to the circus. (Okay I made that last one up; but surely it's only a matter of time ...) The report was written by Adam Corlett and does indeed cast new light on Milanović's chart, or one interpretation of it, namely that the era of high globalisation has been bad for the Western middle class. The horizontal axis of the original chart shows global income distribution—the poorest are on the left and the richest on the right—while the vertical axis shows any rise in real income in the two decades leading up to the GFC. Roughly speaking—very roughly speaking—the "hump" represents the Asian middle class and the down-curve the Western working and middle classes. However—and this is Corlett's key point—since Milanović is studying global income levels, as opposed to national income levels, the composition of the percentiles changes over time. In particular, the chart takes no account of massive population growth in China or the spectacular collapse of wages in Russia after the fall of communism. The point is that if you want to draw general conclusions about the relative incomes of East versus West, North versus South, US versus China, you can't really do it accurately with a chart that takes no account of such distinctions. So Corlett has crunched[...]



The European Union used to solve collective problems, now they are killing it

2016-09-26T08:05:50Z

by Thomas R. Wells Collective action problems pit individual selfishness against the collective interest in areas as diverse as pollution, trade, peace, and public roads. The invisible hand of the market can't reach them. Instead we need politics. The European...by Thomas R. Wells Collective action problems pit individual selfishness against the collective interest in areas as diverse as pollution, trade, peace, and public roads. The invisible hand of the market can't reach them. Instead we need politics. The European Union used to be good at this. But not any more. An example. Public goods like roads and schools and police are worth far more than they cost. We would all be better off as individuals if we each donated some portion of our gains from them into a collective fund for providing them. Unfortunately, we would each be even better off if we were able to escape paying our fair share while everyone else paid theirs. Then we would have our cake and be able to eat it too, to drive on the roads that other people paid for. But then only suckers would contribute, and so the roads wouldn't get built and we would all travel very slowly and inconveniently. Collective action problems are mitigated rather than solved. The main approach is the one recommended by Hobbes in his classic statement of the problem: we call our donations ‘taxes' and appoint someone with a big stick to come along and make sure everyone pays. Introducing an external power ('the government') with the power to punish anti-social behaviour changes the pay-offs attached to our choice of whether to contribute to the public good. Now individual rationality lines up with rational collective choice and the roads get built. There are however two alternative approaches to the Big Stick. We can institutionalise cooperation, for example by making it easier to make binding promises to each other. Or we can moralise it, by taking up a 'team' perspective and acting on the maxim, 'Act as I would wish others to do'. II Hobbes was especially exercised about the collective action problem of peace. Outside a political order (enforced with a Big Stick) rational individuals motivated merely by concern for their own self-preservation would come to fear preemptive attack by others and therefore attempt their own premptive attacks. Man is wolf to man, as he put it. Within a state, the peace and other public goods can be secured the Hobbesian way. However, between states things are trickier, because states don't acknowledge a higher authority and even the most powerful states are merely one among equals. (Just consider China's sneering response to the recent Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling on its annexation of Philippines territory in violation of the Law of the Sea.) To the extent that national sovereignty means that a government cannot be held accountable to outsiders for its actions, sovereignty is dangerous and expensive. It raises the risk of preemptive war and destroys the scope for the disproportionate gains of cooperation, whether over free trade, preserving world fisheries, or mitigating climate change. The EU project is many things, but one of its most important functions – and its greatest success - has been to mitigate collective action problems without giving up national sovereignty to a unified political order (as in the United States). The EU achieved this by taking up the [...]